TAKING THE PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES OF AGING DOGS INTO CONSIDERATION

At the Animal Clinic of Billings, we love providing senior dogs with the care and support they need to age gracefully and comfortably. We understand that the experience of caring for older dogs can be a tremendously rewarding one that enhances and enriches the lives of dogs themselves, as well as their human caretakers. We truly are dog people at heart. We love to lend insight and guidance into caring for older dogs.

Pets age 5-7 times faster than we do. That means that health problems can pop up 5-7 times quicker than they might in us. It is important to remember that many physiological changes occur during the aging process your canine companion is experiencing. These include:

  • Reduced hearing
  • Changes in eyesight
  • Arthritis and muscle mass loss
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Cardiac and kidney disease
  • And more

Some or all of these symptoms may not become noticeable until your dog is very old. Our veterinarians are skilled at detecting subtle changes in a dog’s body that can easily go unnoticed by its owner. Early detection of these changes can help prevent the progression of disease and minimize the suffering of a senior dog.

SCHEDULE REGULAR VETERINARIAN VISITS FOR SENIOR DOGS

Because many of these conditions will develop gradually, it can be difficult for an owner to notice the changes occurring. During the senior wellness exam, our doctors and staff will ask you questions that specifically target medical issues common to senior dogs. Working together with you, we will develop a great plan to ensure optimal health for your dog.

It is important to remember that the aging process is accelerated in dogs. Therefore, we recommend seeing all senior dogs at least twice a year. Bi-annual wellness exams are recommended for geriatric (senior) pets, due to potential health risks that come with age. Cats and dogs that are 7 years of age and older are considered seniors. In addition to the bi-annual wellness exam, routine blood work and urinalyses are recommended every 6 to 12 months for senior pets. With more frequent health care for your senior pet, we can detect illnesses in their early stages and treat them more effectively.

Senior dog care visits provide an opportunity to discuss the well-being of your canine companion as he or she ages. This includes:

  • Behavior
  • Daily schedule
  • Sleep patterns
  • Family interactions
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise and changes in movement

In addition, during a full physical examination for aging dogs we can look at:

  • Weight and Body Condition
  • Skin and Coat Quality
  • Mouth, Gums and Teeth
  • Ears and Eyes
  • Thyroid Gland
  • Heart and Circulatory System
  • Lungs and Nose
  • Abdomen
  • Joints and Muscles
  • Bloodwork
  • Any condition changes since the last visit
An English Bulldog eagerly awaiting to see what his numbers read on the Animal Clinic of Billings scale.

BODY CONDITION EVALUATIONS FOR SENIOR DOGS

Body condition evaluations are important parts of a senior dog care program. They can be crucial in determining whether your senior dog is overweight, underweight, or at an ideal body weight. Carrying extra weight is especially difficult for a senior dog and will impact the quality of its life. Any unwarranted reduction in weight may be a sign of illness. We can also show you how to monitor your dog’s body condition at home which may aid in assessing its condition between visits.

MAKING GOOD FOOD CHOICES FOR SENIOR DOGS

Dr. Brown’s dog Freida with our recommended prescription diet dog and cat food brand, available at the Animal Clinic of Billings

Canine nutrition is extremely important throughout the entirety of a dog’s life. However, making sound senior dog food choices is an especially important facet of senior dog care. Because of decreased physical activity and slowed metabolism, aging dogs may need 20% fewer total calories than middle-aged adult dogs. However, some older dogs may not be able to assimilate proteins as well and may require additions in protein or change in the type of protein. Generally, aging dogs tend to gain weight, and as they do, senior dogs become at risk for possible health complications that did not plague them in adolescence. For example, it may take obese dogs longer for their blood glucose concentrations to return to normal. This disrupted carbohydrate metabolism can lead to diabetes.

This is why it is important to consult your veterinarian about the best senior dog food option for your canine companion. Specially formulated senior dog food, like the kinds our veterinarians can provide at the Animal Clinic of Billings, is easier to digest, might also address liver, kidney or urinary issues, as well as the general nutritional needs specific to senior dogs.

DENTAL CARE FOR SENIOR DOGS

Dental disease is especially common in senior dogs because it progresses gradually and can easily go unnoticed. Senior dogs simply adapt to living with discomfort. However, adapting to discomfort doesn’t mean that they are not in pain. Just as in humans, dental issues can be very painful for dogs. Unfortunately for your dog, they are not able to express themselves to you in a way that will help you understand.

It is our goal to diagnose and treat all dental disease in senior pets and allow them to live comfortably in their senior years. Some senior pets will have other illnesses that will affect the recommended course of treatment. Therefore, we will work together with you to determine the safest and best outcome for your dog.

 

HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD A SENIOR DOG GET?

Although your senior dog cannot jump as high or run as fast as he or she could in their prime, exercise is still an essential component of any senior dog care regimen. Dogs tend to age better both physically and mentally when daily exercise, such as a short walk is a part of their routine. However, an important rule of thumb is to keep their exercise both regular and moderate. Keep up with daily or every other day walks and limit the duration according to the dog’s level of fitness and fatigue. Just as in humans, exercise can also:

  • Help maintain a healthy body weight
  • Slow the progression of old-age arthritis
  • Stimulate cognitive capacity
  • Heighten motor skills and coordination faculties

Of course, the physical condition of your senior dog will ultimately determine exercise duration and frequency, and we recommend consulting your veterinarian about the most appropriate and effective exercise routine for your canine companion.

VACCINES FOR SENIOR DOGS

In general, senior dogs tolerate vaccinations the same as younger dogs. Nonetheless, we evaluate each dog individually when deciding upon a vaccine protocol. Because vaccination schedules are unique to every dog, we recommend discussing vaccinations with your veterinarian to choose the options that are right for your elderly canine companion.

CONTROLLING PARASITES IN SENIOR DOGS

Senior pets are as vulnerable to parasites as younger dogs and in some cases even more so. Unfortunately, they may not be able to groom and care for themselves as well as they once could and therefore may not show clear signs of distress when infected by fleas and ticks. Therefore, it is very important to maintain consistency with flea/tick and intestinal parasite control programs for aging dogs. Your veterinarian can help determine if any changes should be made to an existing senior dog care parasite control program, as well as if a program should be implemented or terminated altogether.

ARTHRITIS MANAGEMENT

Animal Clinic of Billings veterinarian Dr. Felchle surgically administering regenerative stem cells to a dog after processing the dogs own fat cells extracted earlier into the new regenerative stem cells.

If your pet is slowing down or having difficulty rising to a standing position, it may be more than just old age. Arthritis, or osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease that affects dogs and cats in much the same way it affects people. As many as 1 in 5 dogs in the United States suffer from arthritis. Some pets with arthritis exhibit obvious signs of joint pain, while other pets are better at concealing their discomfort. Recognizing the signs of arthritis may not always be easy for pet owners, but our highly skilled and experienced veterinarians and technicians are here to help.

We understand all to well that pet arthritis can be a debilitating condition. Our goal is to educate our clients on the disease, help identify the symptoms of arthritis pain, and develop the most appropriate treatment plan for the individual patient.

CAUSES OF ARTHRITIS IN DOGS

Arthritis occurs when the cartilage that protects the articular surface of a bone breaks down. As a result, the joint becomes swollen and painful. Primary arthritis takes place over time through general wear and tear of an otherwise healthy joint. This is most commonly seen in middle-aged and geriatric patients. Secondary osteoarthritis occurs with trauma/orthopedic injuries, conformational problems, or congenital defects.

Veterinary practitioner Kay Lynn Allen administering laser therapy treatments to an arthritic dog at the Animal Clinic of Billings

Examples of conditions that cause secondary arthritis include:

  • Cruciate ligament injuries
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Luxating patellas
  • IVDD or Degenerative Disk Disease

 

Obesity also increases your pet’s risk of developing arthritis. Maintaining pets at a healthy weight is crucial in managing this disease.

COMMON SIGNS OF ARTHRITIS IN DOGS

Symptoms that may indicate your pet is suffering from orthopedic pain include:

  • Slow to rise, or difficulty rising to a standing position
  • Trouble jumping into the car or onto furniture
  • Slowing down on walks
  • Spending more time lying down with reluctance to get up
  • Inappropriate urination and/or defecation
  • Restlessness/pacing
  • Whining
  • Excessive panting (in dogs)
  • Aggression
  • Insomnia
One of our fun-loving dogs enjoying himself some physical rehab therapy on the Animal Clinic of Billings underwater treadmill.
PRT practitioner Kay Lynn Allen applying laser therapy treatments to a dog after surgery at the Animal Clinic of Billings
The Animal Clinic of Billings underwater treadmill where we provide many physical rehabilitation therapy treatments for both dogs and cats

TREATING ARTHRITIS IN DOGS

At the Animal Clinic of Billings, we tailor arthritis treatment to each individual patient. A multi-modal approach usually offers the best results. We offer several treatment options which include:

  • Prescription medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS)
  • Supplements made with only the highest grade ingredients
  • Physical rehabilitation therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Injectable disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs
  • Diets specifically formulated for joint health

PAIN MANAGEMENT

As our dogs get older, the risk of cancer increases. In many cases, the diagnosis of dog cancer and the resulting cancer treatment (oncology) will have as good an outcome as the treatment of chronic problems such as liver or kidney disease. With recent veterinary medical advances, dogs can live longer and fuller lives than ever before. Frequent health care visits with your veterinarian are imperative for your senior pet as detecting illnesses in their early stages almost always allows us to treat them more effectively. Our veterinarians will always keep you fully apprised on quality of life issues so that you can make a fully informed decision about your dog’s treatment.

If you would like to schedule a senior wellness exam for your dog or cat and discuss the arthritis treatment options available, or learn more about our senior care packages and nutrition counseling, please give us a call during our convenient daytime hours. 

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406-252-9499

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ANIMAL CLINIC OF BILLINGS AND ANIMAL SURGERY CLINIC

providing our region’s companion animals and their families what they need and deserve since 1981

1414 10th St. West, Billings MT 59102

406-252-9499

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